Thoughts of a Former Yelp Elite

June 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

I didn’t start using Yelp until I moved to New York. I remember sitting in my aunt’s living room (I stayed with their family in New Jersey for a month before starting grad school at NYU), watching the Food Network (my parents don’t have cable at home) and excitedly Yelping and bookmarking all the restaurants I wanted to visit once I lived in the city.

I don’t think the whole Elite Squad thing was even on my radar in the beginning. Only one person I knew IRL was Elite as far as I knew, and she lived in Atlanta and was merely an acquaintance.

I used Yelp to remember where and what I had eaten. (My friend Justin claims to be able to store all that information in his brain, but I can do no such feat.) I blog as a way of recording my memories, so Yelping was a natural extension of my writing.

yelp profile

I no longer have the actual email, but I remember the feeling of elation and validation when I got the invitation a few months later to join the Elite Squad ‘13. (I think I replied with something along the lines of “This is the best day ever!!!!!!”)

By then, I had written about 80 reviews and was on track to do about 100 by the end of 2012. I wrote 100+ more the following year and attended five or so Elite events.

At my first event in March 2013, I brought my friend Sarah, and we reveled in the free booze and finger food being passed out on big trays, endlessly coming from the kitchen. There was music and a ton of other young people, and we were in a gorgeous restaurant with an awesome view of the water.

At some point during the event, we were befriended by a white guy I’ll call…Seth. (I use the passive voice because, really, he was the one making all the effort.) He was our age and seemed fun, if a little persistent, and somehow we all exchanged phone numbers (Sarah and I were both tipsy). Seth is quite a character in the Yelp Elite scene; he’s tight with Ruggy, our Community Manager (AKA Elite Squad Overlord) and just knows a lot of other Yelpers. I’ll get back to him later.

My honey and I at our first Yelp Elite event

A photo posted by Sarah Pai (@yummmmpai) on

In the meantime, I was inviting friends to Elite events and showing them the enviable wonders of Yelp status. They each vowed to try to attain it for themselves, but if you’re not naturally inclined to write restaurant reviews, nothing but deliberate discipline will get you there.

By the end of 2013, I got my Elite status renewed for ‘14, and it seemed a whole wave of my friends were accepted into the fold as well. (I’m not saying I’m a trendsetter, but…)

Then in 2014, everything changed. I was leaving New York, then I wasn’t, then I broke up with B, started dating J and got a new job. I became busier and had less time to write about what I was eating. Besides, the kind of places J and I tended to go were already so well-documented (or had seasonal menus) that I felt like I didn’t have anything worth contributing.

My friendship with Seth had also flamed out by early 2014. I had thought that he was interesting enough to keep around as a friend, and we hung out a couple of times before I realized he had Yellow Fever and probably just wanted to get in my pants — the crude evidence being unsolicited dick pics (he knew I had a boyfriend!).

I was sad that just being friends wasn’t enough for him, but I couldn’t help but wonder if me ultimately blocking his texts played a small part in what followed… (Honestly I doubt he’s that petty, but you never know! He certainly had the connections!)

Anyway. The result of my life changes was that I wrote less reviews and also became less active in RSVPing for Elite events. I finally had a real job and was less enticed by free food.

But dropping off the radar doesn’t seem to be a dealbreaker for some Elites. Lucy, who joined Elite shortly after I did, told me that according to her Chicago Community Manager, once you’re in, you’re basically set for life. (The caveat being you should be friends with the CM…I never even had a conversation with Ruggy, oops.) So I was nervous about my status and relative inactivity in the community. My fears came true once 2015 rolled around and everybody was getting their Elite ‘15 badges…except me!

I know it sounds dumb and frivolous, but it was truly agitating. All my friends, who had written less (or less comprehensive) reviews than me, all somehow qualifying, while I, who was the first (forgive my emo ego), get shuffled into exile?? It was like being demoted from varsity to JV as a senior and seeing a bunch of sophomores get promoted in my stead. (/melodramatic)

And it’s not like I stopped using Yelp completely — I still relied on it to read other people’s reviews! But now the Elite ‘15 icon was getting shoved in my face, reminding me of what I had lost. It was humbling, almost embarrassing (not that anybody else cared or noticed LOL).

I don’t know what they consider when renewing people’s statuses. Quantity isn’t everything. Seth, for instance, has written a total of two reviews this entire year. But he’s clearly an Elite lifer. One of my other friends actually got his Elite status revoked as well, but he hasn’t written anything since May of last year, whereas I am still writing somewhat.

So if I’m not invested in the community or going to events, then what do I miss about being Elite? Well, for one, reviews by Elites get a lot more eyeballs than those of commoners. In the handful that I’ve written this year, I’ve received much fewer Useful/Funny/Cool votes. (My poor ego!)

Yelp contacts (“friends”) who used to interact with my check-ins and activity now appear to have forgotten about me. It’s like I’ve been labeled an outcast from the popular kids’ clique. (The horrors.) I’ve also gotten a lot more private messages from guys that clearly have nothing to do with food, but that’s a separate issue. (True horrors.)

Does it impact my life in any major way? No. But it took a few weeks for me to reconcile that it was the natural result of my lifestyle changes. Yelp Elite status was a sacrifice I made in order to make more time for other things I wanted, like going to a nice restaurant with my boyfriend and not obsessively remembering every detail of every dish to write up later.

J thinks that I should be miffed by Yelp’s arbitrary and opaque practices, but I don’t feel like they necessarily owe me anything. I benefit daily from using Yelp to read reviews, and I benefited from being Elite and getting free food (in my poor-grad-student time of need) for doing something I was doing already.

In the end, I’ll always fondly remember my time on the inside. But I’ll also always wonder why it ended.

Vegas Day 3: Mariah Carey at Caesars Palace

June 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

The day we landed in Las Vegas, my friend Lucy told me that Mariah had canceled her Wednesday show due to bronchitis. Whether she really had bronchitis was up for speculation by everyone (I preferred to just believe), but we were mostly concerned about her Saturday show — that was the whole reason we were in town!

Fortunately, by the time the weekend rolled around, we hadn’t heard any bad news. So we started our day with a carefree exploration of downtown Las Vegas. Brunch = smoothies from some health joint called Grass Roots. I was just thirsty and wanted something fruity and hydrating, but these kinds of places always have weird ingredients and very thick textures. My aloe cucumber smoothie was adequate.

IMG_3537

Then over to Container Park, where we had ventured last time (and enjoyed the fiery mantis contraption). This time we just stopped by the toy store, where I couldn’t resist buying a bunch of cute Rilakkuma notebooks and molesting the Pusheen display.

View from outside

View from outside

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Vegas Day 2: Rock in Rio

May 20, 2015 § 2 Comments

rir hed

As I mentioned in my last post, our reason for visiting Las Vegas was to see Mariah Carey perform. But when J was booking our hotel, the rooms were unusually scarce and expensive; further research revealed that there was a music festival in town that same weekend: Rock in Rio.

We had never heard of it before, but after perusing the lineup, we figured that we might as well attend, so we bought VIP passes for Friday.

The festival didn’t start until 3 p.m., so we began our day with a bountiful breakfast at the Encore’s Society Cafe.

On all of the in-room TVs, you can watch the Wynn Resort channel, which is a loop of Steve Wynn taking you on a tour of all the hotel’s amenities and restaurants. He goes on and on about certain restaurants (such as his beloved Andrea’s, named for his second wife), but all Society gets is a throwaway line about its fish and chips :'( Poor Society…it’s not even a British restaurant!

Anyway, I like Society because unlike most other casino restaurants, it’s quite bright inside (and beautifully decorated of course). Plus the food is good!

society pancakes

The place was hopping for breakfast — we barely beat the line. I ordered the Huckleberry Soufflé Pancakes, which took an extra 10-15 minutes to cook and were these decadent two-inch-thick cakes that were dense and delicious. Oh myyy.

When you go to Vegas in May, you expect the weather to be at least slightly scorching. To my dismay, Friday’s temperatures didn’t even cross the 70-degree mark, so I wasn’t able to skank it up for my first-ever music festival. Sad. Instead, after breakfast, we headed over to the Fashion Show mall next door to buy me some warm clothes because I hadn’t brought any!

The mall is simply massive. It just keeps going on and on, an endless walk of typical mall stores. On our way to Lululemon, we walked by an empty runway with a live band rehearsing at one end. I stopped to take a picture, and so did three other Asians walking nearby LOL. It’s an Asian thing……..?!

fashion show

By the time we made our way back, the show had begun, and a whole extra room had materialized out of the ground, leaving the band stranded on its roof!

From within this mysterious room strutted a team of models and dancers. We were mystified. I wanted so badly for this random show to be part of the upcoming season of America’s Next Top Model, but I knew that they rarely (or never?) travel to domestic destinations outside of New York.

Fashion Show (the mall, not the event) had its phone number listed on signs scattered throughout its halls, inviting customers to text with any questions. So I did just that.

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Vegas Day 1: Filling Our Bellies

May 19, 2015 § 2 Comments

Less than two months after our March vacation to Las Vegas, J and I went back again! If it sounds like we’re gambling addicts, you’ll be surprised to find out that we didn’t spend a single minute gambling this time around. (Last time I think we clocked a mere hour at the blackjack tables.)

Back when news came out that Mariah Carey was slated to start performing in Las Vegas, J surprised me with tickets to go see her. Yes, even I thought it was excessive, but who can say no to another vacation and seeing MC singing her biggest hits? So back to the desert we went.

lake

On the flight there Thursday morning, I got a good look at what I presume is Lake Mead, in all its droughty, disappearing glory. And by glory I mean horror. I love going to Vegas, but not if I feel guilty every time I take a shower!

Neither of us had slept very well the night before, so we crashed when we got to the hotel and basically did nothing until dinner (vacation A+).

encore

We stayed at the Encore, and our room was near the end of the hallway so we could actually see the other side of the building — and its giant lettering — as it curved northward. Pretty cool!

kabuto

This unmarked storefront is our favorite restaurant in all of Vegas and hands down the best sushi place in the city. (I haven’t tried all of them, but I doubt any could be better.) Kabuto is located in a strip mall in the vast Chinatown (more accurately: Asiatown) area; the plaza looks unassuming but is actually home to some seriously good restaurants.

sashimi-

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Skin Laundry NYC Review

May 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

skin-laundry

I first read about Skin Laundry right before they opened in Flatiron; it was also right around the time I was lamenting the lack of high-tech skin solutions in the U.S. (or just New York?). It seemed like Asian countries have new treatments popping up all the time — Thermage, IPL, etc. — whereas Americans were content to stick with our drugstore brands while glomming on to Korean fads and occasionally getting high-end facials* if you’re rich.

Even if these new-age treatments are available in the States, I feel like they’re so rarely written about or treated as a regular part of the skincare regimen. It’s simply a different culture.

Anyway, I was mostly ready to jump on Skin Laundry’s wagon. The company, which started in LA, offers only one treatment: the signature 10-minute laser facial. In short, you get two doses of lasers to clean out your pores, then one dose of IPL (intense pulsed light) to even skin tone and stimulate collagen.

I was skeptical at first because every review I read about Skin Laundry sounded like effusive advertorial. The Yelp reviews for their other locations were marginally more helpful. The only semi-skeptical piece I could find about it was on LATimes.

Still, I went ahead and tried it, mostly because I managed to get my first treatment free when I RSVPed to their grand opening in March.

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Notes from Flying Virgin First Class

May 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

tickets

Some pre-notes notes:
-These pictures were taken on two separate trips, so there might be discrepancies in continuity.
-I had never before flown anything other than coach/economy, unless you count JetBlue’s Even More Space seats (I don’t). What an upgrade!
-Previously I was a Virgin virgin, so I have no idea what Virgin’s non-first-class experience is like.

Onward! But quickly and without crowding, because we got to board before everyone else.

1. Everything is just as fuchsia as promised.

interior

2. The captain came out to talk to us before takeoff! I don’t know if this is a regular occurrence on airplanes (I always assumed they greeted us from the cockpit), but this was the first time I’ve been able to see it happen from my own seat!

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Not The Mario Party I Remember

March 25, 2015 § Leave a comment

mario party

I have very, very fond memories of playing Mario Party on Nintendo 64. It combined three of my favorite things: board games, video games and the Mario franchise! I don’t think I’ve owned any since Mario Party 3, but I’ve always tried playing them when I could, even the more recent Wii versions.

Needless to say, I was psyched about the the newest version, Mario Party 10; J preordered it so I could play it on release day. I hadn’t read any reviews, partly because all game-related websites are blocked at work (boohoo) and because I wanted to go into it with an open, unspoiled mind since I was planning to buy it regardless.

Well…I didn’t fall in love with the game. But let’s put good news first. My unexpected favorite thing about MP10 is its badminton game (found under Bonus Games). Why is it there? I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to be a minigame that you could play under normal party mode circumstances…it’s like they just happened to make it and stick it in randomly.

And it’s strangely good! I’ve never had the honor of playing a badminton video game (it’s a fringe sport in this industry I suppose), and I couldn’t get the controls quite right (Peach kept lunging and falling down), but it was fun and evocative of the actual sport. Well done.

That said, here are my least favorite things about Mario Party 10:

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